How to Treat Arthritis Pain
Arthritis is a general term that refers to 100 different types of diseases and conditions that affect the joints and the tissues around the joints, causing pain, stiffness, swelling and decreased range of motion. It can be debilitating and painful. Arthritis affects 50 million adults and 300,000 children, according to the Arthritis Foundation, although the causes of the disease are not well understood. Risk of developing the condition increases with age, and it more commonly occurs among women, though people of any age and any gender can be impacted. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common types of the condition.
Arthritis may be triggered by injury, repetitive use, infection, crystal deposition or genetics, and it commonly affects adults who have other chronic conditions. Nearly half of those with heart disease, 47 percent of those with diabetes and 31 percent who are obese have arthritis.
To learn how arthritis pain can be successfully treated, read below.
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How and Where Arthritis Occurs
Arthritis manifests itself differently from person to person, and it can affect any joint in the body, including those in the:
In some types of arthritis, the joints are affected symmetrically, meaning symptoms are present on both sides of the body.
The swelling associated with arthritis may occur due to the lining of the joint — called the snyovium — swelling or the fluid in the joint — called the synovial fluid — increasing in volume. A fellowship-trained orthopedic specialist can help you determine the type of swelling you have, which will depend on the type of arthritis you have.
You may also notice that you experience stiffness following exercise, in the mornings, or after a period of rest or immobility. Stiffness may accompany arthritis pain. Keep track of the symptoms you have to help your orthopedic doctor more effectively diagnose and treat your condition. Don't just assume that the joint pain you have is caused by arthritis. On the other hand, don't chalk up your joint pain to being a natural part of the aging process, especially if it is impeding your ability to move, work or enjoy life. Early treatment can help preserve joint function and prevent further complications down the line.
Common Types of Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting 27 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Research Foundation. The condition involves the wearing down of joint tissues over time due to injury or just use. The result is arthritis pain caused by the grinding of bone on bone, damage to the bone, restriction of movement and even deformity. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis is not related to the immune system.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million people in the U.S., and women develop the condition at a rate nearly three times that of men. Instead of protecting the body, the immune system attacks the joints, resulting in inflammation, swelling and pain. People usually develop the condition between the ages of 30 and 60 and it typically impacts the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles in a symmetrical fashion. Without proper treatment, rheumatoid arthritis an damage cartilage and bone.
Other types of arthritis include: fibromyalgia, gout, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis and juvenile arthritis. Again, there are 100 different types of arthritis and a fellowship-trained orthopedic doctor can help determine which specific condition you have, along with the best course of treatment.
Arthritis Pain, Limitations and Risks
If you have any type of arthritis, you likely know how disruptive arthritis pain can be and that the condition is sometimes difficult to treat. It can inhibit your ability to move around in the world, do your job or enjoy life.
Symptoms of arthritis — including pain — can range from moderate to severe, and can come and go. Severe arthritis can cause chronic pain, permanent joint changes, and affect other parts of the body, such as the heart, lungs and kidneys.It is the leading cause of disability among adults in America.
According to the most recent statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23.7 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with arthritis by a doctor and report that their activities have been limited due to the condition. One in 25 adults of working age had limitations to their jobs due to arthritis. Having arthritis also increases the risk of falls — adults with arthritis were more likely to have suffered a fall injury in the past 12 months.
How Do You Treat Arthritis?
Your doctor may use a combination of the following methods to help diagnose your condition: physical examination, X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound.
There are four common types of treatment for arthritis pain. An orthopedic specialist will prescribe a treatment plan that will likely include a combination of the following treatments, offered by Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants:
- Physical therapy
- Corticosteroid injections or shots
- Gel injections
- Joint replacement
Some medications that are also commonly used to treat arthritis include:
- Analgesics, such as Tylenol
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil
- Counterirritants in the form of cream or ointments
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- Biologic response modifiers
- Corticosteroids, such as cortisone
You may have heard advertisements for doctors offering gel injections that work like a miracle cure — freeing you from arthritis pain. Unfortunately, no treatment for arthritis is a magic cure-all. Successful treatment for arthritis requires examination by a fellowship-trained orthopedic specialist. You may need to try various methods before finding the right treatment or change your treatment regimen over time.
A common initial course of treatment will likely include cortisone — an anti-inflammatory medication — and physical therapy before gel injections are considered. Getting the right treatment the first time around means sooner — and more lasting — pain management for arthritis.
Multiple treatments will often combined by your orthopedics specialist and a qualified team for the best results. Jumping to gel injections or surgery would be unlikely before physical therapy or cortisone shots. Don't bypass evaluation by a fellowship-trained orthopedic doctor — otherwise you risk prolonged pain and complications resulting from improper or insufficient treatment.
The initial treatment for arthritis often involves a combination of physical therapy and cortisone shots, which help make the physical therapy more effective. The injections are usually administered into the affected joint. In some cases, patients require the arthritis pain relief provided by cortisone in order to effectively engage with a regimen of physical therapy. The pain relief provided by the cortisone can provide a window to start the physical therapy needed for more long-term management of disease symptoms.
For example, research shows that people with rheumatoid arhtritis need a multifaceted approach to treatment that includes physical therapy to decrease potential disabilities in the long run, according to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Rheumatoid arthritis poses a risk for decreased strength and flexibility, muscle atrophy and even a decline in cardiovascular health. Physical therapy, along with other treatments, can help prevent progression.
The number of cortisone shots you can get may be limited by Medicare or your insurance coverage, as well as potential side effects. Check with your medical and insurance provider to ensure your coverage for the injections, and any other treatment needed. The effects of cortisone may last days or weeks through several months.
Cortisone is not a long-term solution for arthritis, but it helps maximize the benefit of physical therapy. Don't expect to run a marathon the day after receiving a shot — or even a week after.
Physical therapy is a crucial step in treating arthritis. During a course of physical therapy, you will build strength and learn how to move in ways that don't aggravate your arthritis — in some cases that means un-learning poor posture or certain ways of moving that may be worsening arthritis pain and other symptoms. According to the American Physical Therapy Assocition, the goals of physical therapy are:
- Diagnosing movement dysfunction
- Improving the ability to move and function
- Reducing pain
- Promoting optimal movement and function, as well as overall health
- Preventing the progression of dysfunction, as well as further limitations or impairments
Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants offers orthopedic physical therapy on-site. The physical therapy staff works alongside the clinic's fellowship-trained orthopedic doctors and surgeons to ensure each patients receives the best treatment possible for their unique condition, all conveniently under one roof.
Further Treatment Options
Hyaluronic acid supplements, or viscosupplementation — also called gel injections — are another option if initial treatment with cortisone and physical therapy fail to bring relief. Hyaluronic acid resembles a naturally-occurring substance in the joints. In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, the injected substance works like a lubricant or a shock absorber, allowing the joints to function properly.
Gel injections are typically administered in the affected joint in a series over several weeks. The effects can last for several weeks to more than a year.
In some cases, when all other treatment options fail, orthopedic surgery may be needed for arthritis. Some common types of arthritis surgery, according to the Arthritis Foundation, include:
- Joint resurfacing
- Arthrodesis or fusion
- Total joint replacement (TJR) or total joint arthroplasty
- Minimally invasive TJR
- Joint revision
The type of joint surgery needed for a specific case of arthritis will vary by condition and affected joints, and depend on your age and other factors. Increasingly, partial and TJR surgery are being done on outpatient basis, meaning no long hospital stays.
Fortunately, the majority of patients don't need surgery for arthritis and other treatments will likely be exhausted before surgery is considered. Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants has fellowship-trained surgeons on staff, should the need for any type of arthritis surgery arise. These experts collaborate with the orthopedic physical therapists and pain management specialists on staff, ensuring the quickest recovery with the most optimal results.
Getting the Right Treatment
If you have had a cortisone or gel shot and felt like it wasn’t an effective treatment for you, it could be that the shot was administered in the wrong place in your body. If you have received treatment without the important element of physical therapy, that also may be hindering arthritis pain relief and the potential long-term benefits you may achieve with comprehensive, thorough care. That is why consulting with an orthopedic specialist is so important, ideally from the start. Don't continue to suffer without a long-term treatment plan developed by orthopedic specialists who can guide you through each step of the process.
Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants combines the expertise of fellowship-trained physicians and 50 years of orthopedic experience. We also offer pain management, physical therapy and a complete array of orthopedic specialists and services all under the same roof. Get the treatment you need — the first time. Make an appointment with our orthopedic specialists.